Backyard Burning and Dioxins

Backyard burning of waste is the single biggest source of dioxins released into the Irish environment. In Ireland, almost 73% of the dioxins that escape into the air have come from the unregulated burning of waste.

Unfortunately, burning waste in back gardens is all too common in Ireland. Some people consider it a cheap way to get rid of waste by avoiding bin charges. In reality, this low temperature burning is doing a lot of damage to air quality and is endangering their health and the health of their neighbours. Typical household waste contains paper, cardboard, textiles, timber, food, garden clippings, plastic and other synthetics materials, many of which contain harmful substances.

Dioxins explained

When chlorine is present in materials that are being burnt (especially plastic and rubber) dioxins are released. They are dangerous to humans and the environment because they are among the most toxic chemicals known to science. Once dioxins enter the environment, they persist due to their chemical make-up and accumulate in fat in animals and humans. Dioxins affect the reproductive and immune systems in humans and are also suspected to cause cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that the majority of dioxins in the Irish environment originate from uncontrolled burning of domestic waste. The Agency monitors dioxin levels in cows’ milk on a regular basis and the results show low dioxin levels generally compared to levels in other European countries. There is also little evidence of higher dioxin levels close to centres of industrial activities, but vigilance must be maintained if this is to remain the case.

Harmful pollutants

The type and quantity of dioxins released depend on the types of waste being burned and the temperature and oxygen levels in the flame. A fire in a backyard doesn't reach high enough temperatures to burn toxic chemicals, leaving them to disperse into the atmosphere.

Below is a list of pollutants that can potentially be generated through backyard burning:

  • Dioxins and furans - toxic and can cause cancer.

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - respiratory and heart illnesse.

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - known causes of cancer.

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) - ground level ozone.

  • Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) - cancer, kidney and liver damage.

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx) - contribute to acid rain.

  • Microscopic particles - lung damage.

  • Ash, which may contain hazardous metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic.

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